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Member News: C.C. Eship / NACCE Journal Fall/Winter 2009

NewParadigms - Kids on Course: Instilling Entrepreneurial Ideals Early in Life

Thursday, November 5, 2009   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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By Ronald E. Thomas, Ph.D.


Dakota County Technical College, Rosemount, MN


Three smart kids have chosen Easter Sunday to hit the links — but not to play golf. The kids, Lauren, 12; Kelsey, 9; and Collin, 7, brim with entrepreneurial vigor because they are launching a new business. Having picked a golf course close to home, they set up their stand between the first and second holes, neatly displaying 60 golf balls that once were lost, but now are found — and ready for sale.

Earlier that spring, Lauren, with her sister Kelsey and little brother Collin, had brainstormed to round up job ideas. They received a weekly allowance for doing household chores, but that meager sum was not nearly enough to buy things like toys and candy. Their parents arranged it that way on purpose to motivate their children to earn money on their own.

The kids looked at babysitting, dog walking, yard work and car washing as potential moneymakers, but for one reason or another those jobs didn’t fit the bill. Finally, they landed on the original idea of selling golf balls at a nearby course. They built a list of reasons why vending salvaged and refurbished golf balls was a winning idea.

  • Nobody was handling the job even though their neighborhood had a handy golf course.
  • Their product line was free and self-replenishing; all they had to do was track down golf balls their own future customers had already lost.
  • Golfers flow through the area continuously, springing for expensive club memberships or 18-hole rounds that cost $60 or more; they are willing to drop $200 and up for a single golf club.
  • New golf balls aren’t cheap; a 12-pack of Titleist Pro V1s sells for $45.
  • Golfers, like most people, are looking for a good deal and probably wouldn’t pass up like-new golf balls discounted as much as 75 percent.

Income would be divided up equally three ways regardless of duties. Lauren loathed hunting for golf balls, but seemed to have a knack for sales. Kelsey hated the refurbishing part of the operation, but was great at organizing golf balls in egg cartons by brand and quality. She also liked to interact with customers. Collin was too young to sell on his own, but loved running down and cleaning up fresh product. Lost golf balls were plentiful and, thanks to a built-in supply of hackers, their reserves were restocked daily.

Lessons were learned early in the process. Lauren and Kelsey modified their pitch more than once, settling on “Eighteen golf balls for a dollar” as the best attention-getting line. They smiled as a rule, speaking loudly and clearly, and always worked the word “cheap” into the conversation.

They determined how to maximize their hours and location, pinpointing times with the highest concentration of golfers while shifting shop to be near the eighth tee, a spot where many golfers had already misplaced a fair number of balls and were game to top off their supplies.

Selling by brand quickly surfaced as a successful strategy. The kids learned early on to tell the difference between a Callaway Big Bertha and a Pinnacle Gold Velocity, the former bringing in $6 more per dozen. By connecting brands with individual golfers, they soon compiled a pool of regular customers. Repeat buyers eventually made up more than 25 percent of their business. Their stand was soon averaging $20 an hour in sales.

Lauren, Kelsey and Collin are premium examples of how an entrepreneurial adventure can capture the imagination of even the youngest person. The U.S. Small Business Administration reports that young people with drive and vision are shaping the future of American enterprise, noting that the pursuit of business experience early in life is often a crucial factor in finding future opportunities and success.

Susan Funaro, writing for LegalZoom, put together a top 10 list of business owners under the age of 16. Her research turned up a who’s who of kidpreneurs, including an eight-year-old girl who invented a device to improve microwaved bacon. The girl’s company rakes in $1 million annually in royalties. Funaro also discovered a 13-year-old boy who designed a type of underwater walkie-talkie and then founded a corporation that earns a cool half million a year.

“Adults don’t have a monopoly on great ideas,” writes Funaro, “in fact, amazing products can come to life under the development of young kids with some great ideas.”

In a recent Wall Street Journal article about teaching kids how to thrive in harsh economic times, Sue Shellenbarger reports that entrepreneurship, which centers on taking the initiative and intelligent risks, is currently “touted by everyone from the President on down as the tonic our economy needs.” She points to a 2009 Gallup survey that interviewed 1,100 employees and managers and found that 60 percent believe “entrepreneurial attitudes are important for workers of all kinds.”

As higher educators, we must continue to do our part by supporting the concept of entrepreneurship at every stage of a student’s development, including more and expanded programs and courses at the collegiate level. To use a golf metaphor, when it comes to kids, the advancement of entrepreneurial thinking needs to become par for the course.

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